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How Much Do You Need to Train for Triathlons, Marathons, and Other Endurance Races?

by Taren Gesell

Blog ▸ How Much Do You Need to Train for Triathlons, Marathons, and Other Endurance Races?

Find out exactly how much you need to train to prepare for any endurance adventure you want to take on!

If you’re just starting to train for an endurance race like a triathlon, marathon, Gran Fondo, ultra trail running race, swimrun, or duathlon, one of the first things you’ll ask yourself is, “How much do I need to train to be prepared for this race?”

How many weeks you need to train, and how much training you need to do each week, depends on a number of factors like your background in endurance sports, the type and distance of race you’re considering, and your goals for how you perform in the race.

With the calculator below you can find out exactly how long you’ll need to prepare for any race, and how much you’ll need to train each week when preparing for the race, to reach whatever goal you have in mind.

In the rest of this article you’ll learn the following:

  • What endurance races take the longest to train for?
  • Which endurance races require the most weekly training hours?
  • How your background, or lack of background, in endurance sports effects how long you’ll need to prepare

What Races Take The Longest To Train For?

Races will take longer to train for if they have more disciplines. For example, an Ironman triathlon will take longer to train for than a long course duathlon even though the distances of the legs within the race are similar. This is because there are three sports you have to become proficient at in the triathlon whereas the duathlon only has two sports to become comfortable in.

Similarly, the more disciplines there are in a sport the more hourly training you’ll have to put in because you have to make progress in more sports while dividing your time between them.

Generally, it will take the longest and most amount of weekly training hours to prepare for triathlons, less time to prepare for duathlons and swimrun races, and the least amount of time to prepare for running races and cycling events like Gran Fondos.

What Sports Take The Longest To Learn?

Swimming tends to be the most difficult sport for someone to learn because it’s such a foreign environment. Simply breathing is a challenge when swimming (fortunately we have a blog post to help with that).

Running is the sport that takes the next highest amount of time to become good at. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. Developing your ideal running technique takes a lot of time, the more you run the more your body will figure out a natural movement pattern.
  2. Running places 7-8x your bodyweight into your musculoskeletal structure with every footstrike, so you need to build up very gradually.
  3. Running will beat you up when you start making you feel sore, so you won’t be able to run a lot when you start running.

Cycling is the sport that takes the least amount of time to become comfortable with because there’s much less technique involved in cycling. Interestingly though, cycling likely takes the longest amount of time to become elite at; it’s almost like your bike legs need to develop “tough callousing” to pedal hard for a long time.

Your Goals Matter..A Lot!

In our endurance plan training app we like to break up an athletes goals for a race into one of three buckets:

  1. They just want to finish the race and don’t care what the time is.
  2. They want to finish the race feeling strong and like they were in control of the race.
  3. They want to compete in the race, finishing in the top 10% of their age group.

Simply finishing the race is a goal that many beginner endurance athletes start out with, and that’s totally ok! It will require the least amount of training and the fewest weeks to prepare.

After their first couple races many athletes want to start feeling like they’re making progress, and in control of how their races go. We describe this goal as, “Wanting to finish feeling strong,” and it will require more hourly training and more weeks to prepare.

If your goal is to compete in endurance events, you’ll have to train a lot, no two ways about it.

Your Athletic Background

The final factor that will determine how much you need to train to prepare for a race will be your athletic background.

If you’re starting from scratch, you shouldn’t spend more weekly hours training, instead you should give yourself longer to train.

If you’ve competed in sports before and are fairly fit than you will need few months to prepare for your race.

And finally, if you’ve competed at an elite level in endurance sports before for quite a number of years you’ll pick up endurance training really quickly.

Summary

The loftier your race goals, the more sports you have to learn, and the longer the race distance you’re considering, the more you’ll have to train each week and the more weeks you’ll need to reach your goals.

There is however one huge caveat to everything we’ve discussed here. The calculator above depends on you performing well structured training; train without a well-designed plan and you literally might never make any progress.

If you’re looking for a training plan for any endurance sport you might be considering, check out our training app here which will get you excellent training and reduce the amount of time you’ll have to spend to reach your goals.

Taren Gesell

"Triathlon Taren" Gesell is founder of MōTTIV and one of the world's top experts on helping adults become endurance athletes later in life. Best known for his YouTube channel and podcast Taren is the author of the Triathlon Foundations series of books and has been published featured in endurance publications around the world.